Thursday, November 26, 2009

Novembre est sombre

This image is like a dream I had. I dreamed I was all alone, I repeat, ALL ALONE, at sunrise in a beautiful European city, just wandering in whichever direction I was pulled, rive droit, rive gauche, rive droit, rive gauche. I've had harder, much less pleasant, decisions to make.

That river and that city are feeling very far away at the moment. I'm back in my quiet, creepily so, little village where the shutters close at dusk, shutting out any trace of warm light within.

This is the hardest thing for me.

One of the things I love about New England in the winter, one of the few comforts I have, other than a blanket of fresh snow, is driving or walking past houses and looking through their windows into warmly-lit living rooms. Seeing someone reading in their favorite chair, watching TV, families moving about, eating dinner, bringing glasses to their lips, laughing, kids doing homework, someone at their computer even.

It is encouraging to see and know, even if you are going back to your own dark house, that you are not alone in this dark world.

But here in France, in this labrynth of a stone village, the houses are like fortresses. Once the people go inside, you don’t see, hear or feel any sign of their presence. They disappear into the depths of their caves and don’t emerge again until their stomachs urge them back to the baker for more bread in the morning.

Occasionally, in summer months, you see someone standing in their open kitchen door, or upstairs window, talking to a friend on the street, taking time to chat and visit, but not in winter. It’s hibernation time.

I’m still trying to figure out how a person can go from completely giddy, neck-deep in puppy- love pond, beer-goggle-wearing worshipper of her surroundings, smelly cheese and all, to whining, complaining, muttering under her breath about everything from having to park the bloody car against people’s kitchen windows to having to pick up my kid at noon for lunch everyday, curser of her surroundings. Pas bon.

Whatever the opposite of beer goggles is, I'm wearing them. And I can't figure out how to get them off.

It goes beyond the simple fact that France has been stripped, by a persistent cold breeze and just a few driving rains, of her fancy, gauzy, fragrant, billowy gown and the anorexic boniness of her figure has been fully exposed.

To be more specific, it’s not France, it’s rural, small- town Burgundy-- the tiny, forgotten village, with its boarded up shops and hotels, which even at the height of summer has never seen a sidewalk buzz-- that has been robbed of the only thing that kept me feeling hopeful about it: physical beauty. (The irony is, this is exactly how so many people, not passionate about snow, not rooted by seven generations of Vermonters before them, feel about winters in Vermont.)

To be even more specific, the fact that I have no real connection to this place, it was a hastily- chosen crash pad, a halfway house to rest in before we moved into the farmhouse, ha, has finally sunken through the porous layer of top soil and is sitting, stagnant, on my bedrock brain.

It’s just like falling in love, or thinking you’re in love, with a beautiful person whom you don’t even know. There is a risk of getting to know them, marrying them even, making wild promises to them, and, waking up one day to find them lying beside you, and wanting to scream.

Okay I’m exaggerating. I don’t find this place repulsive, not at all, just depressing, shabby and devoid of warmth.

I’m lying now. Because our neighbors on many sides, aside from the Grumps, the ones that smile at me and some who even attempt to engage me in conversation, despite the fact that I most often reply in smiles and present-tense, monosyllabic grunts--I am the mute, smiling American-- are truly warm.

And my friends, those who I’ve grown to know and like, Gail, Bridgett and Mandy and their families, send shards of bright light searing through my otherwise estranged existence, cut me open and help me to feel anything but numb. But the difference between me and them is they have laid down roots here, I have not. I am a transient passer through. It's like an affliction, like living behind glass.

There are days when I'm downright giddy with elation and smugness at this strange new life we've made for ourselves here. Then there are other days.

This can happen anywhere. No?

There are some benefits to being a foreigner when it comes to the stories your kids tell about you.

Disclaimer: The author of this blog is prone to irrational bouts of mild depression-- exacerbated by stress and change, and lack of exercise-- and her words, thoughts, sentiments cannot be trusted, or expected to remain truth, for longer than one day at a time. In other words, I'm having another sad day. For lighter, less stodgy fare, Try again tomorrow, or in my lazy-ass case, next month.


mooserbeans said...

You are entitiled to have down days. It's your blog and you can bitch if you want to;). But wait, you are about to experiance the holiday season in a new country. I can't imagine all of the new experinces for you and the girls. I'm still jealous!

mooserbeans said...

By the way, Happy Thanksgiving!

Emma said...

Hugs Betsy. "This, too, shall pass". I've had a terrible week, so I will share a virtual bottle of red with you tonight! All the best.

Betsy said...

This was indeed the anti-Thanksgiving post. Lacking gratitude much? :0

Mooserbeans: I do have a lot to look forward to in the next weeks, a ski trip to the mountains, and Christmas in England. Once I get sliding fast down the snow covered hill, I have a feeling my perspective will change. I'm suffering from snow withdrawal.
Emma: fell asleep before I got to any wine last night. I'll try again tonight.

Liz said...

I get it Betsy. I really do. Keep looking forward to that upcoming mountain experience!

MT said...

Winter is definitely difficult for me in Europe. Geneva is nestled at the side of a lake and surrounded by mountains. The perfect recipe for fog and clouds all winter long. Not only lack of snow (and as a Canadian I love a nice snowy winter), but lack of sun for weeks on end. Except when the biting "bis noir" (black wind/kiss) blows, then it is sunny.
Must be the change of seasons because this week I have definitely had the "anti-beer-goggles" on. I've cursed this country on almost a daily basis this week (month?).
We too will be heading to the mountains soon. A nice chalet in the St Bernard pass for Christmas. Kids will try skiing for the first time. Any hill hints?
Take care!

Betsy said...

MT: you have no idea how much it helps me to hear you saying you've been cursing Switzerland, the most beautiful country on the planet, in my eyes. I did spend a long, dark, cold winter in Zurich in college and remember the fog well. I had to go up through the clouds on a tram at a ski resort to finally see the sun after two months without it.
Anyways, enjoy your chalet.
I had many snowboard competitions at Leysin, not far from Geneva. I won a few cowbells. Ever go there?

Karin (pariskarin) said...

This is a gorgeous image: "It goes beyond the simple fact that France has been stripped, by a persistent cold breeze and just a few driving rains, of her fancy, gauzy, fragrant, billowy gown and the anorexic boniness of her figure has been fully exposed." Ahhh. The reader in me found that sentence absolutely wonderful and moving. It could describe Paris in the winter, too.

You knowwww, there is a reason people like Jean Paul Sartre are from France, lol. There is an undercurrent of this kind of somber attitude here, especially in this season. Nothing specific that I can put my finger on without some concentrated thought, but I feel its presence, and keenly, in the winter. I cannot imagine what it must be like in the sticks, where you are. At least we have the Christmas lights up here. And lit up bakery windows with their holiday goods. Sometimes I feel like the Little Match Girl looking in those windows, though, lol. There are people -- faceless, nameless ones, but a sense of belonging to the human race as people hustle and bustle through the city.

For me, the swing of emotions and the power of them, the ones that make me feel so bipolar at times, are part and parcel of the challenge that comes with cross-cultural living. It's like homesickness on steroids, kind of -- the isolation of it, the challenge of it can be so overwhelming.

But, after winter comes spring, and without a doubt the glasses change back to the rose-colored ones, eventually. It feels, emotionally, like being three years old again, LOL. But it does pass, sometimes within hours. Minutes, even.

And, now you have a Paris connection, so if you ever need a place to crash to see the pretty lights, I'm here and I've got references who will vouch for my not being an ax murderer, or anything like that. A weirdo, maybe, lol. :D But you are welcome if you ever need to hop a train or on EasyJet for a couple of days away from the village life.

A beautifully-written piece Betsy, and I hope things will be looking up soon. I have to say, though, if being a little bit "emo" is going to result in writing like this, it is worth it! Just don't start wearing all black and smoking cloves. Been there, done that, lol. It's only good for so long and then has to pass! *grin*

Jamie said...

Oh those melancholy days where fall is turning to winter. Something about this time of year makes me nostalgic, for what I don't know. I truly enjoy reading your blog. The imagery you create with words is captivating. I just logged into my blogger account and noticed you had left me my very first comment. I am taken aback that YOU would read ME. I have been following you for quite a while now beginning over at baby center. I feel like a grade schooler having just been noticed by the boy I have crush on.

Thank you.

Betsy said...

Thanks for the feedback, Karin. You're so right about the way angst fuels creativity. But is it worth it?
Another day, another perspective. Just one or two brief interactions with townspeople can sometimes be all I need to put a more human, less mineral, face on this place. I need to spend more time gossiping at the local alimentation. :0